Proceedings before panel probing Sexual Harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi should be halted: Lawyers, Activists

Meera Emmanuel May 2 2019
Ranjan Gogoi

An open letter has been addressed to the judges of the Supreme Court expressing concern over the manner in which the sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi are being probed. The letter has been endorsed by over 300 persons, including lawyers, activists and NGOs.

The letter issued today contends that the current inquiry panel probing the allegations has completely delegitimized itself by opting to hear the matter ex parte after the woman staffer who brought the sexual harassment complaint withdrew herself from its proceedings.

Earlier this week, the complainant had withdrawn from the ongoing inquiry proceedings, stating that she felt that she is not likely to get justice from the in-house inquiry panel. The withdrawal has found support in the letter, which states,

We … stand in solidarity with the decision of the complainant to withdraw from the in-house committee proceedings …The reasons given by her in the letter justify her decision to abstain, especially in the context of total imbalance of power vis-a-vis her on one side and the members of highest judiciary on the other.”

CJI Sexual Harassment allegations: Complainant withdraws from 3-Judge Inquiry Panel [Read Press Note]

The letter points out that the manner in which the sexual harassment allegations are being dealt with is in violation of the 2013 Anti-Sexual Harassment legislation, the Vishaka guidelines, as well as natural justice principles.

We reiterate that the constitution of the three-judge Committee is inherently flawed, as the Chief Justice is senior to the three judges hearing the complaint and head of the Institution.

The Committee also does not adhere to the spirit of either the 2013 Act or the Vishaka Guidelines, laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court itself in 1997.

The absence of an external member, whose role is to ensure that there is no undue pressure or influence on either the complainant or the witnesses during the enquiry, casts a shadow on the intent behind and the purpose of setting up this Committee itself.”

A further objection is raised towards the manner in which the Committee has conducted the inquiry so far – from failing to disclose the procedure being followed, to barring the complainant’s lawyer from being present during the proceedings.

“…  failing to stipulate the procedure to be followed, terming the proceeding as an ‘informal’, and not allowing a lawyer/support person to be present, completely ignores the unequal balance of power not only between the parties but also between the complainant and the Committee itself.”

The letter also states,

We are aware, that this is an extraordinary case that calls for extraordinary measures to be put in place, as this is a matter pertaining to the highest judicial authority under the constitution. However, extraordinary measures cannot and ought not to overlook, fundamental principles of natural justice and fair hearing.”

In view of these concerns, an appeal has been made that the corrective steps be taken to halt the present in-house inquiry proceedings in the interest of maintaining public faith in the judiciary.

If they fail to do so, not only the complainant but the citizens of this country, especially women and marginalized sections, will lose faith in the judicial system …

If the highest judicial authority does not follow its own procedures and stand up in support of the less powerful, it will send a message of disquiet to all those keeping faith in the system.

In order to maintain this faith and to stand with the less powerful, the complainant in this case, we implore the present Committee to immediately stop hearing this Complaint.”

Further, it is demanded that the following measures be implemented to address the sexual harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi:

a) A Special Enquiry Committee consisting of credible individuals be constituted to conduct a thorough enquiry at the earliest and create an atmosphere of transparency and confidence for the complainant to depose.

b) The Special Enquiry Committee should follow the norms of the IC and the principles of natural justice and accordingly conduct its enquiry.

c) The Chief Justice of India should refrain from transacting official duties and responsibilities until the completion of the enquiry.

d) The complainant must be allowed to be represented by a lawyer/support person of her choice.”

The present in-house inquiry committee comprises Justices SA BobdeIndira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra.

Earlier, the complainant had raised concerns pertaining to Justice NV Ramana’s presence in the panel that was first constituted to look into the matter. It was stated that the close relationship shared by Justice Ramana with CJI Gogoi might not allow for an objective hearing.

This led Justice Ramana to recuse from the panel shortly after. Consequently, Justice Indu Malhotra replaced him on the panel.

The in-house panel began hearing the matter on Friday, April 26. CJI Ranjan Gogoi reportedly appeared before the panel yesterday.

Read the full letter below:

Open Letter to Judges of Supreme Court-2nd May 2019-2

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